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  Texas : Feature : Columns : "They shoe horses, don't they?"

Etta Moten Barnett

November 5th, 1901 - January - 2004
by John Troesser

"Life does not owe me one thing."
They shoe horse
While her birth in Weimar, Texas may have just been chance, it's her accomplishments after she left Weimar that deserve a closer look. When she died last year of cancer (in Chicago) at the age of 102, Etta Moten Barnett had had a rich and full life.. She is now remembered as an actress, singer, and philanthropist, but as the only daughter of the Reverend Freeman F. Moten and his wife Ida, she was a ten-year-old who taught Sunday school and sang in the church choir.

Our coverage of Etta Moten is supplemented by this information from Bill Stein, Director of the Nesbitt Library in Columbus, Texas.

"I went to the courthouse yesterday and found out a little more about Etta Moten. Her mother, Ida Mae Norman, was raised here [Columbus]. In 1900, she was an 18 year old washerwoman living with her widowed mother and her younger sister. On February 5, 1901, she married Freeman F. Moten, who was 25 or 26, here in Colorado County. Etta, apparently their only child, was born on November 5, 1901, nine months to the day after the wedding. By 1910, they had moved to Anderson County, where Freeman was working as a minister and Ida as a dressmaker. I have not found them after that. According to her biographers, Etta married right out of high school, suggesting to me that she was married around 1920. If so, she probably married a local boy, so that wedding might have occurred in Anderson County. Or maybe not. It would be interesting to turn up her marriage certificate. By the way, the family is usually listed in official records as "Morton" rather than "Moten." I am sure that Moten is correct, but mention this in case [anyone wishes to do additional] research." - Bill Stein

Harry Belafonte (on the occasion of Etta's 100th birthday) said that Etta "gave Black people an opportunity to see themselves on a big screen as something beautiful. In her we found another dimension to being Black in our time."

Etta Motel Barnett's life was also addressed by her daughter who said: "People don't know what guts it must have taken to leave a husband with three children ... to go back to school ... to embark on a show business career alone ... and to turn a blind eye to the overt racism and discrimination of the day and not be deterred. People don't know all of the racial barriers she knocked down without even trying. People don't know what an example she is for us all in staying active and growing old gracefully."

Ten Things You Should Know About Etta Moten Barnett - next page
"They shoe horses, don't they?" - February 1, 2005 column

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